Victoria - Colonial: 1854-1900.
The first line to South Australia.


The Argus of 27 September 1856 reported that: "The construction of the Western Line, embracing Geelong, Ballaarat, Raglan, Warrnambool, Belfast, Portland and Mount Gambier (about 260 miles) will be proceeded with during the ensuing summer so that, by the latter part of 1857, our most important outposts and remote districts of the colony will be brought within speaking distance of Melbourne. The total cost of this most invaluable addition to our public works, when fully completed and in working order, will not exceed the sum of £60,000. This amount will compare favorably with many large sums expended for other works whose utility and advantage are not so generally felt and acknowledged as are the benefits of the electric telegraph".

The December 1856 Report of the Superintendent of the Electric Telegraph to both Houses of the Victorian Telegraph contained a Joint Report by Samuel McGowan and Charles Todd recommending an inter-colonial telegraph link between the Colonies of Victoria and South Australia and foreshadowing an additional link to incorporate New South Wales into the system.

This report was adopted and all three Colonies began to plan their construction programs during 1857. See elsewhere for the New South Wales and South Australian initiatives.

In the Estimates for 1857 provided in December 1856, the sum of £18,000 was allocated for the construction of "the line from Ballaarat to Raglan, Warrnambool, Belfast, Portland and Mount Gambier".

In the Legislative Assembly of 15 January 1857, "Mr. Childers, in moving the resolution respecting the establishment of inter-colonial telegraphs, said the attention of the Government during the recess had been drawn to the expediency of extending the line in accordance with the original intention and communications had been made with the Governments of South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. The Government of South Australia was most desirous of proceeding with the work and they had good reason to because they would be put to some disadvantage compared with the neighboring colonies in the contemplated arrangements for steam postal communication. The arrangement for an electric telegraph would be very much to their advantage.

It was proposed that the line should pass from Ballarat to Raglan, Portland, Warrnambool, Belfast and Mount Gambier. It had been agreed that each colony should construct its own line to the borders. Of course the concurrence of the Legislature was required to the scheme.

A scale of charges would be found set out in the schedule. He had stated that the line was to be constructed to the boundary of the respective governments and the results would go to the credit of each colony. International messages would be equally divided between the two colonies.

The Legislature of South Australia were almost unanimous on the point and, on the 11th December, passed a motion appropriating £20,500 for the work. The cost of the line from Ballarat, that is for this Government, would be about £18,000 besides some provision for stations. He asked the House to confirm this agreement in order that contracts might be at once entered into ...The estimated revenue of the Adelaide line (that is on this side) was £14,000 per annum and the expendíture £6,350 leaving a net profit of £7,650".

Advertisements were placed for the construction of the Victorian line in the Gazette and in newspapers in January/February 1857 as follows:

Public Works Office. Melbourne,
20th January, 1857.

CONSTRUCTING A LINE of ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH between BALLARAT and PORTLAND, via Raglan, Warrnambool, and Belfast.

TENDERS will be received until 11 o'clock on Tuesday, 3rd March, 1857, for Constructing a Line of Electric Telegraph between Ballarat and Portland, via Raglan, Warrnambool and Belfast.

The Tenderers in each case to state:

  • the rate per mile for Posts, Insulators, and Wires.
  • the rate per set for Instruments.
  • a gross sum for the supply of a stated number of Cells of Battery, and a quantity of Insulated Copper Wire, Binding, Screws, etc

Plan and Specification may be seen at the Office of the Superintendent of the Electric Telegraph, Melbourne.

Tenders to be endorsed 'Tender for Constructing a Line of Electric Telegraph between Ballarat and Portland' and addressed (if by post prepaid) to the Commissioner of Public Works, Melbourne. The Government will not necessarily accept the lowest or any Tender.


Hence the line was to start at Ballarat and proceed west, then south to the coast to Warrnambool and then west along the southern coast. As more lines were constructed over the next decade or so, the starting stations for the line to South Australia via Mount Gambier changed to Williamstown and Geelong - see later.

On 25 June 1857, the Estimate of £18,000 was passed in the Legislative Council for the extension of the electric telegraph from Ballarat to Raglan, Warrnambool, Belfast, Portland and Mount Gambier.

Construction of the line.

The Victorian line was erected from both ends - from Portland in the west and from Ballarat in the east. Intermediate Telegraph stations were opened at five locations as well as a line constructed from Portland through Nelson and then across the border to Mount Gambier.

Mr. McGowan's Report to 30 June 1857 (p. 1) provides a detailed statement about the progress made to date on this line. In summary:

"Care has been taken to select a route which will at a future time be favourable for a line of road. It is anticipated that good results will ensue from this precaution, especially in traversing the open plains between Raglan (Fiery Creek diggings) and Hexham - a distance of nearly eighty miles on the west bank of the Hopkins River - where the line will form a safe guide to travellers in proceeding from the western gold fields to Warrnambool and other parts on the southern coast, and will also be of service to strangers visiting the interior of the district through which the line is carried. Offices are to be established at Portland, Belfast, Warrnambool, Hexham, Streatham and at or near Raglan. The precise distance between Ballarat and the point of junction at the boundary of the colonies is not made out but it is estimated at 320 miles. The contract has been somewhat higher than that taken for the north-eastern section and is at the rate of £65 10s per mile which will give a total cost of nearly £21,000. The reason for this higher rate is attributed to the abundance and contiguity of suitable timber on the north eastern route and the consequent lessening of expense of transport - usually a considerable item in carrying out public works in the interior".
(Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 21 September 1857).

The Bendigo Advertiser of 13 July 1857 reported that "the posts are completed right into Warrnambool. The inhabitants will, therefore, in a few months, be able to enjoy the advantages of the wonderful and beautiful invention of the electric telegraph. We also understand that the contractors, at present in Warrnambool, are bound to complete the line within about seven months from date but, provided they receive some encouragement from the residents of this district, are prepared to finish the telegraph within a shorter time".

In November 1857, the Government called for tenders for the erection of Telegraph Offices at Belfast, Warrnambool, Hexham, Streatham and Fiery Creek.

On 27 January 1858, the Legislative Council voted £1,500 for the extension of the line from Portland to Mount Gambier.


Completion of the construction.

In McGowan's Report for the half year to December 1857, he states (p.1) "the line via Ballarat, Fiery Creek, Hexham, Warrnambool and Portland to the South Australian Boundary, a short distance beyond the township of Nelson at the River Glenelg, was reported by the Contractor as having been completed ready for testing on 29 December".

On 13 March 1858, the line of electric telegraph from Melbourne via Ballarat to Belfast had been completed and the station at Belfast was opened for public business. The electric telegraph was then complete from Belvoir (Wodonga) in the north-east on the Murray River to the Glenelg River in the west on the South Australian boundary line - a distance of 650 miles. At that time, there were 22 stations on the inter-colonial line in Victoria and 11 in South Australia with another 5 stations nearing completion.

It was not expected that the revenue derivable from messages at Raglan, Streatham or Hexham would defray the expense of the necessary salaries but there was a great advantage of having stations at short intervals so that the locality of any accident to the wire could be speedily discovered and thus any delay to the working of the line would be minimised or obviated.


The Telegraph Offices - construction and fit-out.

On 17 March 1858, The Age reported that "The apparatus for the Warrnambool and Hexham Stations arrived per steamer on Wednesday last. On Thursday (says the Examiner) Mr Rackham, the station master, was engaged fitting the batteries etc, in the Council Chamber which will be used as a temporary office until the proper building is completed. Communication was opened with Melbourne on Thursday afternoon, but there are some defects yet to correct. The line will not be open to the public until next week. Then — Eureka!". The line from Hexham could not be opened until Mr. McGowan arrived but, as the apparatus was already in the office at Hexham, no time would be lost.

On 7 May 1858, the Herald advised that "Some unexplained hitch in the completion of "the circuit" has led to a postponement of communication between Melbourne and Adelaide. On dit, however, that in a day or two at the most, inter-gubernatorial courtesies will be exchanged and we may shortly have the pleasure of announcing the latest bulletin as to Sir Richard Macdonald's health and well-being".

Telegraph stations along the line opened almost in the order from west to east:


Line operation.

The Victoria-South Australia inter-colonial telegraph line became operational on 22 May 1858 (Todd's Annual Report for the year to 30 June 1858). There was however some drama towards the end as described in The Age of 8 June 1858:

The mysterious accident on the telegraph line between South Australia and Victoria, referred to in His Excellency's address as having prevented the establishment of telegraphic intercourse between the two colonies was, after all, only the throwing down of a post. The South Australian Register explains the whole thing by publishing the following telegram sent by Mr Todd from Guichen Bay to the Commissioner of Public Works at Adelaide:

'Portland has had no communication with Melbourne to-day. He says a post is blown down beyond Hexham and therefore he cannot speak Melbourne to-night. I cannot make any positive arrangement with regard to the opening of the line as my first message to McGowan is still at Portland. I must leave it to your judgment whether to postpone the opening till Saturday. Our line is perfect.'
Perhaps by this time our Government will have received official despatches which have put them in possession of information on a subject which they deemed of sufficient moment to require explicit mention in a Vice Regal speech

A fuller and more complex analysis of the politics of the situation was published on page 5 by The Argus.


Planning the second line.

The importance of the link between Warrnambool, Nelson and Mount Gambier is demonstrated by the commencement of planning for a second inter-colonial line within months of the first Victorian to South Australia line being opened. A second wire was also erected between Geelong and Ballarat to provide an additional facility for the transmission of messages in a high volume context.

As the telegraph became more popular, additional lines were constructed throughout Victoria. These new lines brought rationalisation of the telegraph offices along them. Hence all the offices on the above map gradually became part of other lines. Details of each office can be found through the listing of all Telegraph Offices in Victoria.